My history of British Manufacturing

My history of British Manufacturing
My history of British Manufacturing

Saturday 31 January 2009

Shakespeare - AL Rowse and cutting edge language

The first biography of Shakespeare written by an historian.

The significance of this shines from the very first page as the reader is lead into the detail of life in Stratford. Rowse serves up the evidence he has unearthed of the financial and other dealings of the Shakespeare family and their circle. It has a flavour of archeology as the facts are presented and the reader is invited to help find into which sort of pattern they might fit.


The most exciting observation I have read so far is about the newness of language. We read Shakespeare and the King James Bible and weary sometimes at their antiquity. Wrong, wrong, wrong. These books were cutting edge of the new English language, quite possibly shocking but definitely the sort of thing bright young men and women would get very excited about.

This is the swinging sixties of the sixteen century

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Dot com - remember that?

Amid the really astonishing events surrounding the banks comes a thread of memory of quite why it was the FTSE last reached the 6,000's. The context is relevant and might well age me. Dear old Phillips and Drew, a massively respected name, stuck to the principle of value investment; you know, actually looking at what a company does and assessing the quality of its earnings. They fell in the league talbes whilst the flash boys all went for momentum investment; my favourite image of the round tray filled with water which sloshes to the side to which the trays is tipping at any one time; and the more it sloshes the more it tips've guessed.
Well, dot com was quintessential momentum, money piled in after money and values (what an odd use of a word) rose and rose. This is so like the other metaphor of the roundabout which spins for ever faster until some one blows the whistle and, another metaphor, the king is seen to have no clothes.
What strikes immediately as odd is how the banking sector seems to have taken the mantle of the dot coms. It is odd until we look more closely at what banking had become. Profits it seems came from clever financial instruments which defied gravity. So that they fell should be no surprise. The problem is that they were in the same banks which have serious job to do in any economy.

Monday 19 January 2009


The Graduation Ceremony at Exeter on Saturday brought it home. It is no longer numbers; it is names and faces and on Saturday they were mostly post graduate degrees.
I return to a piece I wrote with tongue firmly in cheek, as indeed we all did, as we argued that higher education should be only for the rich. Outrageous and wrong, but...
But, is it fair to take people through three years as undergraduates and then one doing a masters or solicitors exams or some such, with no real possibility of work? Or do we play a longer game and accept that first time round the right job won't come, but that there are other opportunities which will add something whilst we wait? It is the prospect of so many people educated to a level which the jobs market simply does not require. Or, again, is government thinking of a longer game? Or, as I have argued before, is it a device to massage the unemployment figures?
An honest and informed assessment would go down well.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

1599 A year in the life of William Shakespeare

My purpose in reading James Shapiro's superb work is to feel the world in which Chrispin Kyd lived. Chrispin is the hero of my teen fiction set in Elizabethan England. The initial idea was a trilogy with the first around Walsingham and spies. I am now attracted by the interpretation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and its implications for a bright grammar school boy. The key for me is to assess the degree to which such a boy might sense what is abroad politically.

Friday 9 January 2009

Will this recession pass?

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian of 9 January takes leaf out of the historian's file to assure us that all will be well.

As usual with Jenkins, there are buckets full of common sense slopping around everywhere in his argument. I'm with him in his jibes. I have to say the Bishops got my goat particularly with their hefty shutting of the borrowing the door so long after it would have done any good.

My question though is whether we are seeing something that has a substantial structural element to it. A friend told me that he had been away from Falmouth for the Christmas Holiday and returned to find third of the shops shut. This is an exaggeration, but the high street of smaller towns are beginning to look like mouths after a visit to the dentist. Retail is changing. My own village is awash with courier companies delivering on line purchases. It has been apparent for ages that the high street is made up largely of financial services, opticians, designer clothes and coffee shops. Soon surely it wil just be spectacles and cups of coffee.

But what does or should this mean for the economy? As pointed out elsewhere in Jenkins's article one third of workers are relatively untouched by recession, being on the public payroll; another cohort, those already taking their pensions, are in the clear. Those at risk are those for whom economic growth is a vital link in the chain. Many jobs go on from year to year simply because they need to be done; these surely are pretty safe. It is the jobs that come from someone taking risk to gain advantage that go in recession but even then not all of these.

But in the longer term, are these jobs less likely to appear in the future? I think not. the entrepreneurial instinct is firmly in place and will be bursting through any minute now.
The landscape though will change and this we must accept. Perhaps though the old labourites were right. An economy cannot exist happily on financial service and retail alone. some how, somewhere, someone needs still to make something.

Thursday 1 January 2009

Notes from an Exhibition - Patrick Gale

The teen novel is still in process but the hunger for something more substantial took hold. Patrick Gale is a writer in the ascendency. His book begins slowly. We are allowed to spend time with artist Rachel as she wakes and prepares to paint. It is a pleasant pace, with short moments when the motion quickens. I note the contrast with my own first draft of my first chapter where there is too little time for contemplation - this will be addressed.
Back to Notes from an Exhibition, the second chapter moves the pov from Rachel to her husband Anthony and a good number of years earlier at Oxford. The first point of note is ther similarity with the early part of Engleby but the second is the more technical question of the stance of the narrator. H. Porter Abbott in The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative explores the distance of the narrator from the characters (2002:67) and I sense that Gale is closer to Anthony than he was to Rachel. This may well change, but I note it as work in progress at page 18 of the 2008 Harper paperback.

Having spent time with Antony, Patrick Gale passes us on to his son Garfield, or rather not his son; Garfield being the child of the Professor whose brush off may have resulted in Rachel's first suicide attempt. The affect is fascinating. It is like looking through a prism, almost the same view but from different perspectives. The strong Quaker theme is encouraging for someone who wants to include a spiritual element in his writing. There are small hints of Joanna Trollope or even Mary Wesley.

Patrick Gale came to talk to us at the Professional Writing Course at University College Falmouth and was particularly helpful about the process of writing. He passed round the manuscript of his latest novel which showed the hand writing with which he starts and the manuscript alterations which follow. Then came the first typed draft, again with subsequent manuscript amendments. It is a process which demands discipline.

I have already begun to use the leather covered note book my wife, Maggie, gave me for Christmas! It brings to writing a sense that it is special but combined with the fact that it will alter, not least in the process of putting it onto computer.

Patrick spoke of how he wrote Notes on an Exhibition. I had already observed the way point of view moves and I asked him about this. He explained that he had written the book as really a series of short stories all around the heroine Rachel, and he had then placed them in some sort of order. It shines out that the story holds together through the relationship of the characters rather than through any clear thread of plot.

It is refreshing and inspiring.